West Port Arthur Park: Rough start, nice potential

Published 11:29 am Thursday, May 3, 2018


The first symbolic turn of a shovel has launched creation of a vegetable/fruit garden and public park across from Westside Development Center in Port Arthur, a happy result from a tough start.

Valero Refinery is building the acre-plus park with apparent first-rate intentions as part of a settlement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for environmental transgressions — most of them air emission violations between 2009 and 2013 — at the nearby West Port Arthur plant.

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At a Tuesday groundbreaking, Valero Vice President Mark Skobel said the project is “expandable” and the company talked about how it might interact or build upon the plans there. So they’re not necessarily building it and walking away, although their obligations end at some point.

Valero didn’t concede the violations but not only forked over settlement money but appears to be doing more. The park project is an “offset” from the penalty, which enabled the company to direct its money toward a local project rather than to the state. Had they done that, they suggested, the money might have gone anywhere in Texas. So give Valero credit for being smart and community conscious in effecting this supplemental environmental project.

Park plans themselves appear to be first-rate. The park will be built on an empty city lot — Port Arthur has more than enough empty lots — along Eighth Street between Rev. Raymond Scott and Grannis Avenues. It will feature native plants and fruit trees and will use and encourage environmentally sound practices.

Hilton Kelley of Community-In Power and Development said the ground has been tested and is uncontaminated. Nonetheless, the park is planning to use raised beds to assuage neighbors’ fears about contaminated earth. That’s the sort of thing you think about when you leave near a plant.

But Kelley said his organization’s dealings on the project encouraged better relationships between the neighbors and industry. So it should.

This, too, is important: The company is establishing a trust fund that will provide for continued care and oversight of the park. It won’t be a burden on the taxpayers or the neighbors and should keep the park intact as a local asset to those who use it. That required foresight.

Councilman Raymond Scott sees the park as “a great thing for the community” and he’s right. Citizens were routinely involved in its planning and questions at a meeting before the groundbreaking showed the neighbors are aware of the park’s potential benefits and will add to the park’s utility.

This, too, matters: The settlement provides benefit to Valero neighbors, who likely were most at risk from the emissions. It encourages healthy family time for neighbors within the park confines. It doesn’t put the city at risk financially.

Given the rough start, the end should be a happy one.